Louw, Adriaan & Zimney, Kory & Puentedura, Emilio & Diener, Ina. (2016). The efficacy of pain neuroscience education on musculoskeletal pain: A systematic review of the literature. Physiotherapy Theory and Practice. 32. 1-24. 10.1080/09593985.2016.1194646.
Often, when someone has persistent or chronic pain, what’s almost forgotten amidst the assessments, tests, diagnosis, and treatments, is the person. This person is not just a body with all these parts. Rather, someone who has a unique story, history, perspective and perception about what is happening with them. How pain affects almost every aspect of their life. Their worries, concerns, uncertainty about the future.
The International Association for the Study of Pain (IASP) launched it’s Global Alliance of Pain Patient Advocates in 2018, stating “this initiative seeks to better integrate the patient voice to inform pain research and its translation into new interventions to treat pain.” Below, Joletta Belton, tells her story:
I’ve been following Joletta for a long while now. Not only an advocator for the person in pain, she writes a blog over at mycuppajo, and co-founded Endless Possibilities Initiative (EPIc), which is a “nonprofit organization intent on changing the way people get access to science-based information about pain.”
She writes “My protective responses not only affected my breath, but my movement too. My muscles would tense up, my joints would become stiff, my movement braced and rigid. Being rigid and stiff affected the way I moved, the way I walked, the way I sat. The way I existed in the world. The tenser and more guarded I was, the more pain there was, so I started moving less. The less I moved, the more painful movement became. Fear of more pain, of more damage, made me move even less. A vicious cycle.”
She goes on to share what helped her most over the years. The first two, on her list:
“feeling heard and believed, supported and empowered
feeling understood, as well as understanding and making sense of my pain.”
“When we live with pain, it changes who we are as people. It changes how we see the world and how we relate to that world. We protect ourselves through isolation and withdrawal, through guarding and tension, through altered thoughts, beliefs, and movements. We disconnect from the people, places and activities that are meaningful to us.”
“It is hard.”
In her conclusion, she also goes on to say “… I want you to know it takes hard work to get out of those dark places, too. I want you to know that change is possible, but it’s not easy. It takes time and persistence, compassion and courage. … there is so much that is possible, so much that can be done, no matter how long someone has lived with pain, no matter how many limitations they may have.”
Jolette also recently contributed, wrote, the first chapter in the Meanings of Pain, Volume 2, released last month. The interdisciplinary book – the second in the three-volume Meanings of Pain series edited by Dr Simon van Rysewyk “aims to better understand pain by describing experiences of pain and the meanings these experiences hold for the people living through them”.
In my work as a yoga therapist and Pain Care Yoga teacher, probably the most important part of my work is to listen to what the person in front of me is saying about their pain, their story, their life. Provide safety and support, work to empower the person in pain as they might learn to move, breathe and renew their own sense of meaning and purpose in the world.
If you are someone who suffers from chronic pain, know that there are people out there willing to listen. There is hope. Your pain CAN change.
Let’s all continue to advocate for, educate and push for more services and support for the 1 in 5 Canadians who need it most. Each and every person, in pain.
What if you could learn how to move safely? To live your life again, with more ease.
What if you could learn how to tune into your body’s signals in a way that can best guide you?
Pain is definitely complex and there can be a whole range of contributors to your individual experience of pain. It’s usually not just one thing which is why looking for the ‘thing’ to fix the pain doesn’t usually work. Particularly over the long term.
What if you had a safe place to practice what yoga offers?
gentle movement practice
meditation or mindfulness practices
What if you had a community of others to be with who face similar concerns, uncertainty and questions, while you explore this?
What if you could learn that you are capable of changing or modulating your pain.
What if you could learn a little more to understand pain, what might be contributors, and what might best help to change your experience of pain?
What if you could learn how to work with your breath to help modulate your pain?
What if you could learn to notice stress and muscle tension which may contribute to your pain? Often, these lay just under your current level of awareness.
What if you could learn ways that might help you to sleep, as we do know sleep is often a factor in the experience of pain.
What if you could learn more about your nervous system and your brain and how adaptable these are? What part they play and how this means your pain is adaptable as well.
If any of this is of interest, resonates with you or you’re curious to find out more there is still time to register for the next series of Pain Care Yoga Classes. You can find more information here, or feel free to send a question here or by emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org
** Tuesdays and Thursday mornings in Stittsville, starting November 5th.
How might we blend yoga with science to provide pain care to people? A new book just released provides a way forward.
“Our vision is for this book to improve care for people living in pain, whether acute or chronic pain. We believe health care professionals and yoga therapists can enhance care through deeper understanding of pain, science and evidence-informed interventions. We also believe that professionals can enhance their work through integrating yoga concepts, practices and philosophies. As such, this book is meant to bridge yoga, pain science and evidence-informed rehabilitation … and will inform those committed to helping people with this largely undertreated issue that causes so much suffering in the world.” – Preface, Yoga and Science in Pain Care; Edited by Neil Pearson, Shelly Prosko, Marlysa Sullivan
The first chapter by Joletta Belton is about the “Lived Experience of Pain” highlighting to me the need to listen to, acknowledge and consider first, the person and their experience.
“The authors provide an integrated, in-depth understanding of how yoga therapy can be incorporated within a modern understanding of pain as an experience. The book encompasses perspectives from people living with pain, summarises research progress in the field, debates theories of pain and pain management, considers the many different yoga practices, describes pain biology, self-regulation and examines breath, body awareness, nutrition, emotions and response to pain, and above all, integrates concern for practitioners and people in pain as humans sharing an intangible experience together. The authors write about how yoga therapy can provide a uniting and compassionate approach to helping people learn to live well.”
– Bronwyn Lennox Thompson, PhD, MSc, DipOT, Postgraduate Academic Programme Leader, Pain and Pain Management, Orthopaedic Surgery and Musculoskeletal Medicine, University of Otago, Christchurch, NZ
There are a lot of yoga books on shelves these days. Yoga for this, yoga for that. You name it; it’s being written about. The trouble with this and certainly when talking about pain is the approach is about the condition, the problem, the illness or disease. What’s often left out is the person. Which may be one of the reasons why we fail in helping people.
After all, your pain is not the same as my pain. Not only is the physical aspect different, my body different, my genetics, my structure. Almost more important is the rest of ‘me’ that’s different from ‘you’.
My life history is different from yours. My environment is different from yours. My stressors are probably not your stressors. My understanding of pain probably differs from yours. My expectations, beliefs and thoughts about my pain will be different from yours. My social structures, friends, family, work-life will all be different. So how might we believe we can just apply this ‘fix’ to everyone who experiences pain? It just doesn’t make sense, when you think about it. Particularly when we understand that pain… is… complex.
We, therefore, should look to explore and be curious about all the things that might be contributing to your particular experience of pain. Similarly, individualize the care, tools, techniques and practices with what research tells us might be useful, to change your pain.
You may have had pain for years. Like 30+ years or more. Still, there is an opportunity for change based on what we know about pain and how it works. There is much still to learn but we can change the nervous system, We can change the brain. We can change physiology and most likely all three of these have been changed if your pain has been ongoing.
Pain can change. There is hope. I will keep saying this over and over and over again …
If you’re the type that likes read and learn about this yourself, order a copy of the book, here.
If you’re the type that would like to learn from me in person or in a class setting with others, check out my updated schedule for the fall, here. New classes starting in September!
Joletta Belton, as noted above, writes a blog “My Cuppa Joe” about the lived experience of pain. Among other things, she is a speaker, educator and advocate for people in pain. You can read her blog, here.
Bronwyn Lennox Thompson also writes a blog “Healthskills: For health professionals supporting chronic pain self management.” An exceptional resource for information, research, and discussion. You can check it out here.
When people want help with a problem (like pain) they most
often want to know
How to fix it
How long it will take
My last few Instagram posts were shoulder movements that you
might have found helpful. So, if you came to me asking for help in regards to
shoulder or perhaps neck pain, would I choose to have you do them as thething for you?
Maybe. Maybe not. It
You see, the thing for you is likely not to be the thing that helped me or someone else for that matter.
Which is why looking to find the thing or the fix for chronic pain often leads to frustration. Or further
along the line, a sense of hopelessness.
There are variables between you and I not only in our
physical structure, but also other areas that affect what we might feel or
experience in any moment, on any given day. Particularly when it comes to pain.
And most often, it’s usually not just one thing.
Over the last couple of months, I offered up some movements specific to feet, hips and shoulders that you might have found useful. Whether you’re seeking greater mobility, ease, gaining more awareness or perhaps you’re trying to overcome some issues with regards to chronic or persistent pain that you experience. It can take some time to make progress, or it can actually be rather quick in learning what does, or does not provide relief for you or at least the ability to move with more ease.
I find it most hopeful to know there many things we can try along the way.
And no, it’s not just cherry-picking, or somehow blindly choosing, either. What’s been learned over the years in regards to pain is quite different from our understanding of the past in terms of causation and most important, what might be effective treatments.
It’s now understood that long-term pain is poorly correlated to tissue health and science shows us that it is both complex and often has a multitude of factors. We do feel pain IN our body. However, it is often a nervous system issue… which often increases our sensitivity to pain. We can affect our nervous system. We can affect change. We can affect our physiology. Which is what makes this a hopeful message.
For the most part, any movement you add into your day and into your life will be of benefit. What’s key while moving is for you to build awareness of what works and what doesn’t for you. What feels right and what doesn’t, for you.
If you learn to pay attention to even the most subtle of sensations, you’ll begin to notice and learn all kinds of things about your body and your self which will lead to the other things, that often play a part in your unique experience of pain.
So it’s not just one thing. Or the thing. Or your thing. Or my thing.
What are the other things, that might be contributing to your experience of pain? More to come…
Though I’ve been focusing on the feet these last few weeks, if you’re having problems with your feet you may also want to make some other connections. Yes, similar to what we’ve been exploring there are things you can do physically that will help. But our feet are connected to our leg bones, our leg bones are connected to our hip joint. Our hips are connected to our spine and further it goes, up the whole body.
We tend to look where pain expresses itself… and think we will find the solution there.
Some people may have knee problems and look to ‘fix’ the knee when really what’s happening (or not happening) is at the hips or at the feet. Or elsewhere.
Imagine you have a cast on your ankle and how it might feel when you walk. How your body might compensate. You may end up with a sore back or shoulder muscles as you try to move as best you can with a stiff, unable to bend, ankle. We’re not usually walking around with a cast on, but many people don’t really use a lot of their ankle flexion for a whole host of reasons. Shoes, patterns of movement, previous injury, etc. Pain may be expressed in your back or shoulders when what’s really going on is down at your feet.
People will often say, “yes but I had an x-ray or ultrasound and they found this (insert condition here) is wrong with my feet”. Yes, I’ve been there too. Diagnosed with chronic plantar fasciitis in both feet, osteoarthritis in both big toes. Basically, I was told to wear rocker shoes, orthotics, and live with it.
Orthotics absolutely serve a purpose in many cases but I’m not sure of any other body part we are willing to cast or brace for a lifetime. We might need a collar brace, but not forever. We may need to wear a special boot to help with a foot injury or after surgery. The point is we work hard, physiotherapists and others work hard with us, to remove these external or artificial supports. Our feet and some orthotics, in my opinion, should be no different.
After my own diagnosis and subsequently learning that our body will most often adapt to what’s asked of it, I figured there must be another way. I have put some effort and focus on my feet in many of the ways shown last month but what was happening in my hips (lack of strength and stability) also played a part.
There are often many pieces to the puzzle of long-term, persistent or chronic pain.
For instance, why was it my feet didn’t always hurt? Why only sometimes? Some days?
Paying close attention I came to notice that when under stress, under too much ‘load’, my pain was likely to arise or increase. If I was out enjoying myself, not a care in the world, doing something fun or even necessary perhaps, I didn’t seem to have pain. But at other times, it most definitely kicked in.
Adding load, good stress, to keep the bones healthy
Wearing appropriate footwear; allowing for space, mobility, flexibility
Keeping my overall ‘weight’ in a manageable range
Knowing that my levels of stress, fatigue, diet and a range of other factors may also play a part.
In the month of November, we’ll explore our HIPS (Yes, I switched my focus this month from shoulders to hips. We’ll get to shoulders in December). This is where load and/or gravitational forces are primarily distributed through the body so how well we manage this, matters.
Along the way, I’ll throw in a few morsels about chronic pain that might help you make sense of your own personal experience with persistent pain in the hips, or elsewhere.
When I used to write about yoga for a local magazine, the numbers of Americans practicing yoga was about 20 million. Today, about 6 years later, that number has nearly doubled, edging up towards to 40 million. Globally, the estimate is about 300 million and the number of over 50s practicing yoga has tripled over the last four years.
People often wonder what this thing called yoga actually is. Difficult to answer in just a sentence but to me YOGA is the exploration, awareness, and response that informs how I (might best) relate to the world inside myself and to the larger world around me.
A large part of this doesn’t involve the physical yoga postures or asana practice, but that’s usually where people begin. It is a good way into the wider exploration. Most, practice on a mat and typically in a group class. Certainly, it’s where I began.
Not knowing anything about yoga when starting out, I first practiced Ashtanga yoga and then when I began teaching it was a somewhat modified Vinyasa practice. Both involve strong, physical, almost gymnastic-like movements linked with the breath. Ashtanga, in particular, is meant to be practiced for 1.5hrs each day, 6 days of the week.
My practice today no longer resembles this in the least. Today, my physical yoga practice is interweaved throughout the day, with broader concepts in the background.
Most often it does not take place on my mat.
Most often it is less than 30 minutes at a time.
Most often it’s a response to whatever I feel might best serve me, at any given time.
No special place, clothing, or time.
Which I think might be a helpful way to practice for many who don’t have the time, money, or perhaps ability to get to a studio or gym.
What does this practice look like?
Join me over the next few months and we’ll look at little snippets of yoga, movement, breath practices that can be done in a couple of minutes or combined to make your own personal practice. On your own time, in your own space, that fits into whatever your life demands of you.
Most important to me is to teach people what they can do for themselves. Provide agency. The ability for you to have the tools and the freedom to make choices that enhance your wellbeing and your life.
In October we’ll focus on the feet.
November will be all about the shoulder joint.
In December, we’ll get into the hip joint.
I’ve chosen these particular areas to focus on as they tend to be where problems, pains, issues show up for most people I talk and work with.
After receiving basic information about the University of Ottawa Heart Institute’s Heart Wise Exercise program, presented at my yoga therapy training, I wanted to go back to learn more so paid them a visit earlier this week. Theirs is a program that helps to connect patients who have been through initial rehab programs after diagnosis, illness, surgery from heart disease, to community-based exercise programs and fitness professionals. It served primarily Ottawa but over the years has expanded in/around Ontario and a little into Quebec.
I mentioned a program in Alberta that I’d found on the internet a year or so ago. In Alberta the Prescription to Get Active Program allows you to visit your doctor, receive a ‘prescription to get active’ and then find a facility in your community offering all kinds of activities from walking, strength training, yoga, cycling, swimming, dancing, etc. The ‘prescription’ allows for free access (often a series like a 10-pass visit, free month, etc.) to get you started.
I often reference the excellent program the province of BC provides to health care providers and those living with chronic pain. The Pain BC program is one of the of the best (well, the only one of its kind I know of) in Canada in terms of information, resources and programs.
It’s too bad all these programs are rather piecemeal and for the most part unknown across Canada, rather than being coordinated. I give great credit to the people and work done to provide them. It’s just our government or overriding systems that seem to be unable to provide the coordination, or funding or whatever might be needed so everyone can access them.
Regardless, for my Canadian friends and followers, feel free to check them out!
Links above, but for easy reference click on any of these links:
I originally posted this on the Yoga and Movement Research Community Facebook group earlier in the week and then realized I should probably do so for my own readers.
Hip pain, SI joint pain, osteoarthritis of the hip, scoliosis, etc. often come up for discussion as a topic of pain and injury and there’s new research that may be helpful to others experiencing these conditions or symptoms.
“Gluteal tendinopathy, often referred to as greater trochanteric bursitis or greater trochanteric pain syndrome, has a prevalence of 10-25% and is experienced by one in four women aged over 50 years. The disorder presents as pain and tenderness over the greater trochanter and often interferes with sleep and physical function. The level of disability and quality of life is equivalent to that of severe hip osteoarthritis, and effective management strategies are required.”
I’ve just been listening to a podcast, which led me to the guest’s (Tom Goom, physiotherapist) blog post, which led me to a new (May 2018) studyhe references, which then led me to some other information about hormones.
First, I find it interesting, that gluteal tendinopathy has commonly been misdiagnosed.
“GT typically presents as pain over the greater trochanter (the bony lump felt at the side of your hip). Symptoms may spread into the outside of the thigh and knee. It is commonly misdiagnosed as hip joint pathology, ITBS, sciatica or as being referred from the lumbar spine. GT is a good example of how clinical knowledge has progressed in recent years. Initially it was thought of as inflammation of the trochanteric bursa – a fluid filled sac that sits over the trochanter. However as research developed we realised 2 rather important things. The bursa may not be the issue and there isn’t really any inflammation. Later the condition was termed Greater Trochanteric Pain Syndrome (GTPS) but further research has enabled us to be more specific with the diagnosis. Bird et al. (2001) examined MRI findings of patients with GTPS, they found that nearly all patients had evidence of Gluteus Medius Tendinopathy. Swelling of the bursa was present in just 8% of cases and did not occur in the absence of gluteal tendinopathy.
The primary pathology of Gluteal Tendinopathy is most likely an insertional tendinopathy of the Gluteus Medius and/ or Gluteus Minimus tendons and enlargement of the associated bursa.”
Second, a study published in the BMJ (May 2010) shows its both education AND exercise which results in greater improvement at both 8 and 52 weeks (as compared to corticosteroid injections or ‘wait and see’ approach) in Gluteal tendinopathy. Again, how education is an important piece of the pain puzzle. Most often people experiencing pain do better with both education and movement, according to current research.
Third, right at the end of the podcast, Tom briefly mentions how hormones may play at part. Interesting again, as this is very common presentation for women who would be experiencing menopause. As noted above, 1 in 4 women over the age of 50 (myself included 🙂 )
“The continuous modulation of female sex hormones during the menstrual cycle affects the composition of tendon collagen, because the connective tissues express receptors for both estrogen and progesterone. This leads to a clinically relevant condition in relation to physical training and musculoskeletal performance of female athletes.”
Key points for me through all this is that education is a key component so “the patient” has some control. Our current systems typically leave out self-efficacy or agency of a person and rather encourages a dependence, passivity and ‘have someone else fix it’ situation. Knowing you have some understanding and influence over your health rather than the usual doubt, uncertainty and fear can go a long way. Though this does involve engagement, commitment and doing the work.
On the topic of hormones, well let’s hope that future researchers will see the need to account for such differences rather than using only males for most health-related studies. I understand it’s difficult to do given the cyclic nature, but surely it makes a difference.
If you’re interested in this, suffer from on-going pain in your a**, or are curious about how hormones may play a part I encourage you to read further. Or, you can always comment below to discuss.
Running Physio blog post: New study is a LEAP forward. He’s written a few over the last month, you may want to check out.
BMJ (June 2018): Education plus exercise versus corticosteroid injection use versus a wait and see approach on global outcome and pain from gluteal tendinopathy: prospective, single blinded, randomised clinical trial.
Continuing with the second of three papers recently published in The Lancet regarding Low Back Pain. What guidelines are already in place, what’s actually occurring in practice and suggested solutions going forward.
What’s striking to me is the
clear evidence of substantial gaps between evidence and practice, that are pervasive
A few years after delving into this, I am still scratching my head how far behind we are in our medical and clinical practice given the evidence. Yet, I’m hopeful that as more and more of this gets into the public domain, much-needed momentum will begin to close the GAP. Particularly with the crisis we find ourselves in, the growing epidemic of opioid use which is literally, killing people.
What are the treatment guideline GAPS, as outlined in the paper?
study results of clinical practice and highlights the disparity between ten guideline recommendations and the reality of current health care.
Guideline Message: Low back pain should be managed in primary care.
Practice: in high-income, low-income, and middle-income settings, people with low back pain present to emergency departments or to a medical specialist.
Guideline Message: Provide education and advice.
Practice: in high-income, low-income, and middle-income settings this aspect of care is rarely provided.
Guideline Message: Remain active and stay at work.
Practice: in high-income, low-income, and middle-income settings, many clinicians and patients advocate rest and absence from work.
Guideline message: imaging should only occur if the clinician suspects a specific condition that would require different management to non-specific low back pain.
Practice: although such specific causes of low back pain are rare, in high-income, low-income, and middle-income settings, imaging rates are high.
Guideline message: first choice of therapy should be non-pharmacological.
Practice: surveys of care show that this approach is usually not followed.
Guideline message: most guidelines advise against electrical physical modalities (eg, short-wave diathermy, traction).
Practice: worldwide these ineffective treatments are still used by the professionals who administer physical therapies.
Guideline message: due to unclear evidence of efficacy and concerns of harm, the use of opioid analgesic medicines is now discouraged.
Practice: these medicines have been overused in some, but not all, high-income countries; low-income and middle-income countries seem to have very low rates of use.
Guideline message: interventional procedures and surgery have a very limited role, if any, in the management of low back pain.
Practice: these approaches are widely used in high-income countries, little evidence on their use is available for low-income and middle-income settings.
Guideline message: exercise is recommended for chronic low back pain.
Practice: clinician treatment preferences and health-care constraints limit uptake.
Guideline message: a biopsychosocial framework should guide management of low back pain.
Practice: the psychosocial aspects of low back pain are poorly managed in high-income, low-income, and middle-income settings.
As you can see, what’s recommended is not what’s being offered to people for treatment.
Though first line care is meant to be non-pharmacological,
a study from the USA showed that only about half of people with chronic low back pain are prescribed exercise. In Australian primary care and in the emergency department setting in Canada, the most common treatment is prescribed medication.
Then, there are the rates of imaging, even though it has a limited role to play (see previous post).
39% in Norway, 54% in the USA, 56% in Italy as three examples, presenting patients to emergency rooms are given imaging.
Even worse, opioids. Though data for effects of opioids for acute low back pain are sparse,
one study showed that they were prescribed for around 60% of emergency department presentations for low back pain in the USA.
More than half the total number of people taking opioids long-term have low back pain though NO randomized controlled trial evidence is available about long-term effects. Well, we can see some of the short-term effects taking place across our countries at the moment.
In terms of surgery, which has “a limited role for low back pain”,
studies from the USA, Australia and the Netherlands show frequent use of spinal fusion.
So the waste to our healthcare system is apparent, but the bigger cost is what’s happening to the people who are provided these treatments that have shown to have little success. They seem stuck in what seems a never-ending loop of pain.
“Guidelines recommend self-management, physical and psychological therapies, and some forms of complementary medicine, and place less emphasis on pharmacological and surgical treatments, routine use of imaging and investigations is not recommended.
Little prevention research exists, with the only known effective interventions for secondary prevention being exercise, combined with education, and exercise alone.”
Where do we go from here?
“Promising solutions include focused implementation of best practice, the redesign of clinical pathways, integrated health and occupational care, changes to payment systems and legislation, and public health and prevention strategies.”
Current guidelines need to be utilized which we clearly see, they are not. There needs to be better integrated education of health-care professionals including a change to the clinical-care model. Revamping the “current models of health-care reimbursement, which reward volume rather than quality”. Integration of health-care and occupation interventions so we can get people back to work and back to their lives. Changes to compensation and disability policies. Finally, public health interventions to change public’s beliefs and behaviors.
Which brings us to the last of the 3 papers, Low back pain: a call for action, up next on the blog.